One troubling detail in the case of a missing cavalier named Gizmo has remained unsolved more than two years on from his disappearance.
The owner of a cavalier King Charles spaniel was starting to lose hope of ever being reunited with her four-legged friend as she entered the fourth day of desperate searching.
Gizmo went missing from his home in Greystanes, west of Sydney, in February 2019 after being stolen from the backyard through the side gate, which was accidentally left open.
His owner, Reen, had ducked inside briefly to take a phone call, and when she went back out, Gizmo was gone. Her other two dogs however, Charlie and Billy, were still there.
It wasn’t long before Reen descended into “full panic mode”, with Sydney experiencing the peak of its summer heat and the distraught owner concerned he would dehydrate.
“I was in full panic mode that he was out in this heat by himself. I was worried he wouldn’t last. How was he going to get access to water?” she told news.com.au podcast The Dog Detective.
Reen frantically searched areas surrounding her home within a 20km radius, including dense bushland, but there still was no sign of Gizmo.
She appealed for help in Facebook “lost and found” groups and eventually set up a page dedicated to her search for Gizmo, which ended up gaining nationwide attention.
“It went viral. So he ended up going all over Australia, but I was also getting messages from people in England, the Philippines, I had messages from people in Spain [and] America,” Reen said.
Good Samaritans from across Sydney came to join the search. They printed posters, carried water bowls, and one even travelled from the Central Coast with a drone to help.
“By this stage I’d had no sleep. I’d walk through that much bush, I’m pretty sure I had a spider nesting in my hair and my legs were bleeding from all the scrub I’d walked through,” Reen said.
Despite the extensive search party covering far beyond the 20km radius, Gizmo still hadn’t been found.
Random caller gives search faint hope
But Reen’s luck seemingly began to change when she received a mysterious call from a private number. The man on the other line told her: “I believe I have found your dog Gizmo”.
Reen’s relief was short-lived however, as the man yelled, “grab Gizmo, someone grab him”, before hanging up and never attempting to call again.
“I was an absolute complete mess … I didn’t even look remotely human,” Reen said.
After looking for her Gizmo night and day for almost four days on no sleep, Reen received another call, this time from a woman.
“I said to them, ‘is he alive?’.”
Gizmo was safe, sitting on the side of the road not far from her house.
“He was just sitting there like normal. He was a bit shocked himself. I don’t think he actually believed it was me. He didn’t want to leave my side,” she recalled.
Spooky clue in Gizmo discovery
Something didn’t seem right when Reen was reunited with Gizmo though, as it seemed as though someone had given him a bath.
When she took him for a check-up, the vet agreed it was bizarre for Gizmo to smell like shampoo and be entirely free of any sign he had been living in the bush for several days.
He didn’t have a temperature and wasn’t dehydrated, which given the heat outside, suggested that someone had been taking care of him in their home.
“She said, ‘I’m of the opinion that somebody had him for this whole time’. And I said to her, ‘I feel that way as well. But at the moment, I’m just so ecstatic that he’s back home, and that he’s okay’.”
To this day, Reen still has no idea where Gizmo was for those three days he was missing.
She has since renamed her initial Facebook page to “Help Find Gizmo’s Friends” and for more than two years, has worked to help reunite other owners with their missing pets.
The Dog Detective is news.com.au’s new six part podcast serial lifting the lid on the complicated world of dog detectives, and the dark side of the pet community in Australia